A Forgotten Landmark Chronicles the Empire of the ‘Sun Tribe’


“We live in boring times,” someone says early in this 1956 Japanese totem movie, the defining film of the post-war “sun tribe” (
taiyozoku) generation of cynical, decadent, narcissistic teens. Tame and even clichéd today, Ko Nakahira’s sexy time capsule, all but forgotten even in Japan, parallels the stateside snowballing of youth culture (James Dean had died less than a year before), but for all of its scandalous transgressions (including boozing, strip poker, gang bangs, and finally, homicide) the movie reflects more precisely the post–WW I, Lost Generation culture moment of movies like The Last Flight. Certainly, the deep hurt and despair of the climactic passage, set against a milieu of unrelenting leisure, sun, and affluence, is still stunning. The movie was, at any rate, a New Wave ignition switch, beautifully shot by Shigeyoshi Mine (Seijun Suzuki’s DP), scored by Japanese soundtrack pope-king Toru Takemitsu, and written by bestselling novelist Shintaro Ishihara (whose brother Yujiro stars, at the beginning of his Paul Newman–ish career). Among the ancillary materials is a running commentary- lecture by illustrious Nipponophile Donald Richie, who not only backlights Nakahira’s film but the entire sociopolitical history of 20th-century Japanese cinema, all the way to Kitano and Miike. However clotted with Freudian-feminist theory, it’s one of the best DVD gabfests I’ve ever heard.